Exploring the ruins in Carsulae

Umbrian adventure

Umbria is often overshadowed as a holiday destination by Tuscany, its more famous neighbour – which is a shame, says Harry Glass

The scene is a holiday apartment on a working farm near Amelia, in the hills of southern Umbria. A swimming pool in front of the buildings commands uninterrupted views over a wide valley. Vineyards and olive groves run down the slopes on all sides. Mountains form a line on the horizon, and the sun beats powerfully down from the sky

This could so easily have been all I have to report. The beauty of the place, combined with a wonderfully soporific heat, meant it was exceedingly tempting to do nothing except lounge on a sunbed, occasionally popping a fresh olive into my mouth. But Umbria is the ‘green heart of Italy’, and there is lots to see and do.

The region is landlocked in the middle of the country. That explains the ‘heart’. And the ‘green’? Wooded mountains, rolling hills and lush valleys are everywhere and agriculture plays a big part in the local economy – the region is famous for its wine and olive oil, as well as for its great natural beauty.

Henry James called Umbria ‘the most beautiful garden in all the world’ – but still it’s overlooked in favour of Tuscany. The lack of coastline might worry people – but do they know about Lake Trasimeno? Italy’s fourth largest lake, it has three islands, eight towns around its shores and plenty of small beaches.

There’s plenty to do in Umbria. Despite the lure of the pool, we ended up being rather busy. This is what we did:

  • Visited Lake Piediluco and the Marmore Falls, both near Terni
  • Saw the remarkable ruins of a Roman town next to poppy fields
  • Explored the region’s capital, Perugia
  • Strolled along the shoreline of Lake Trasimeno
  • Admired Giotto’s frescos in Assisi
  • Danced at a village fiesta

But one of the simplest pleasures was walking around Amelia, near our base. First, we headed to market in the new part of town, asking a passer-by for directions. “E un po slalom,” he said, smiling – it’s a little slalom. He gesticulated right and left through the tangled streets. We wound our way to the stalls and bought fruit, veg and excellent ham – one of the region’s specialities.

The old town sits on a rocky hill. Up here the atmosphere is very relaxed. We enjoyed a quiet drink in a charming piazza before engaging in more foot-slalom up to the church of San Francesco. Its doors open onto a balcony with wonderful views over the surrounding countryside.

Amelia, in the hills of southern Umbria